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Gloria Swanson
Black and white photo of a woman
Swanson in 1941
Gloria May Josephine Swanson

(1899-03-27)March 27, 1899
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
DiedApril 4, 1983(1983-04-04) (aged 84)
New York City, U.S.
Resting placeChurch of the Heavenly Rest, New York City
Other namesGloria Mae
  • Actress
  • producer
Years active1914–1983
Political partyRepublican
(m. 1916; div. 1918)
(m. 1919; div. 1922)
(m. 1925; div. 1931)
Michael Farmer
(m. 1931; div. 1934)
William Davey
(m. 1945; div. 1946)
(m. 1976)

Gloria Josephine Mae Swanson[1] (March 27, 1899 – April 4, 1983) was an American actress. She first achieved fame acting in dozens of silent films in the 1920s and was nominated three times for the Academy Award for Best Actress, most famously for her 1950 turn in Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard, which also earned her a Golden Globe Award.

Swanson was born in Chicago and raised in a military family that moved from base to base. Her infatuation with Essanay Studios actor Francis X. Bushman led to her aunt taking her to tour the actor's Chicago studio. The 15-year-old Swanson was offered a brief walk-on for one film, beginning her life's career in front of the cameras. Swanson was soon hired to work in California for Mack Sennett's Keystone Studios comedy shorts opposite Bobby Vernon.

She was eventually recruited by Famous Players–Lasky/Paramount Pictures, where she was put under contract for seven years and became a global superstar. She starred in a series of films about society, directed by Cecil B. DeMille, including Male and Female (1919). She continued as a successful movie star in The Affairs of Anatol (1921) and Beyond the Rocks (1922). She also starred in critically acclaimed performances such as Zaza (1923) and Madame Sans-Gêne (1925).

In 1925, Swanson joined United Artists as one of the film industry's pioneering women filmmakers. She produced and starred in the 1928 film Sadie Thompson, earning her a nomination for Best Actress at the first annual Academy Awards. Her sound film debut performance in 1929's The Trespasser, earned her a second Academy Award nomination. Queen Kelly (1928–29) was a box office disaster, but is remembered as a silent classic. After almost two decades in front of the cameras, her film success waned during the 1930s. Swanson received renewed praise for her return to the screen in her role as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard (1950). She made only three more films, but guest starred on several television shows, and acted in road productions of stage plays.

Early life[edit]

Swanson was born in a small house in Chicago in 1899, the only child of Adelaide (née Klanowski) and Joseph Theodore Swanson (né Svensson), a soldier.[2] She was raised in the Lutheran faith. Her father was a Swedish American and her mother was of German, French, and Polish ancestry.[3][4] Because of her father's attachment to the U.S. Army, the family moved frequently. She spent some of her childhood in Key West, Florida, where she was enrolled in a Catholic convent school,[5] and in Puerto Rico, where she saw her first motion pictures.[6]


1914–1918: Essanay/Keystone/Triangle[edit]

Black and white photo of a young man, a young woman, and a dog
Bobby Vernon with Gloria Swanson and Teddy the Dog in Teddy at the Throttle (1917)

Her family once again residing in Chicago, the adolescent Gloria developed a crush on actor Francis X. Bushman and knew he was employed by Essanay Studios in the city. Swanson later recalled that her Aunt Inga brought her at the age of 15 to visit Bushman's studio, where she was discovered by a tour guide. Other accounts have the star-struck Swanson herself talking her way into the business. In either version, she was soon hired as an extra.[7]

The movie industry was still in its infancy, churning out short subjects, without the advantage of today's casting agencies and talent agents promoting their latest find. A willing extra was often a valuable asset. Her first role was a brief walk-on with actress Gerda Holmes, that paid an enormous (in those days) $3.25.[8] The studio soon offered her steady work at $13.25 (equivalent to $403 in 2023) per week.[9][10] Swanson left school to work full-time at the studio.[9] In 1915, she co-starred in Sweedie Goes to College with her future first husband Wallace Beery.[11]

Portrait (1917)

Swanson's mother accompanied her to California in 1916 for her roles in Mack Sennett's Keystone Studios comedy shorts opposite Bobby Vernon and directed by Clarence G. Badger. They were met at the train station by Beery, who was pursuing his own career ambitions at Keystone.[12] Vernon and Swanson projected a great screen chemistry that proved popular with audiences. Director Charley Chase recalled that Swanson was "frightened to death" of Vernon's dangerous stunts.[13] Surviving movies in which they appear together include The Danger Girl (1916), The Sultan's Wife (1917), and Teddy at the Throttle (1917).[14][15] Badger was sufficiently impressed by Swanson to recommend her to the director Jack Conway for Her Decision and You Can't Believe Everything in 1918.[14][16] Triangle had never put Swanson under contract, but did increase her pay to $15 a week. When she was approached by Famous Players–Lasky to work for Cecil B. DeMille, the resulting legal dispute obligated her to Triangle for several more months. Soon afterward, Triangle was in a financial bind and loaned Swanson to DeMille for the comedy Don't Change Your Husband.[17][15]

Swanson in Male and Female (1919)

1919–1926: Famous Players–Lasky/Paramount Pictures[edit]

Swanson in the 1920s

At the behest of DeMille, Swanson signed a contract with Famous Players–Lasky on December 30, 1918, for $150 a week, to be raised to $200 a week, and eventually $350 a week.[18] Her first picture under her new contract was DeMille's World War I romantic drama For Better, for Worse.[19] She made six pictures under the direction of DeMille,[20] including Male and Female[21] (1919) in which she posed with a lion as "Lion's Bride".[22] While she and her father were dining out one evening, the man who would become her second husband, Equity Pictures president Herbert K. Somborn, introduced himself, by inviting her to meet one of her personal idols, actress Clara Kimball Young.[23]

Black and white photo of a man and woman embracing
Swanson and Rudolph Valentino in a scene from Beyond the Rocks (1922)

Why Change Your Wife?, Something to Think About (both 1920), and The Affairs of Anatol (1921) soon followed.[24] She next appeared in 10 films directed by Sam Wood,[25] starting with The Great Moment (1921) and including Beyond the Rocks in 1922 with her longtime friend Rudolph Valentino.[26][27] Valentino had become a star in 1921 for his appearance in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, but Swanson had known him since his days as an aspiring actor getting small parts, with no apparent hope for his professional future. She was impressed by his shy, well-mannered personality, the complete opposite of what his public image would become.[28]

After her films with Wood, she appeared in Zaza (1923) directed by Allan Dwan. During her time at Famous Players–Lasky, seven more of her films were directed by Dwan.[29]

In 1925, Swanson starred in the French-American comedy Madame Sans-Gêne, directed by Léonce Perret.[30] Filming was allowed for the first time at many of the historic sites relating to Napoleon. While it was well received at the time, no prints are known to exist and it is considered to be a lost film.[31] Swanson appeared in a 1925 short produced by Lee de Forest in his Phonofilm sound-on-film process.[32] She made a number of films for Paramount, including The Coast of Folly (1925), Stage Struck (1925) and The Untamed Lady (1926).[33] Before she could produce films with United Artists, she completed Fine Manners with Paramount and turned down an offer to make The King of Kings with DeMille.[34]

1925–1933: United Artists[edit]

Swanson on the March 7, 1925, cover of Liberty magazine

She turned down a one-million-dollar-a-year (equivalent to $17,500,000 in 2023)[10] contract with Paramount in favor of joining the newly created United Artists partnership on June 25, 1925, accepting a six-picture distribution offer from president Joseph Schenck.[35] At the time, Swanson was considered the most bankable star of her era.[36] United Artists had its own Art Cinema Corporation subsidiary to advance financial loans for the productions of individual partners.[37] The partnership agreement included her commitment to a buy-in of $100,000 of preferred stock subscription.[35]

Swanson Producing Corporation[edit]

The Swanson Producing Corporation was set up as the umbrella organization for her agreement with United Artists.[38] Under that name, she produced The Love of Sunya with herself in the title role.[39] The film, co-starring John Boles, was directed by Albert Parker, based on the play The Eyes of Youth by Max Marcin and Charles Guernon.[38] The production was a disaster, with Parker being indecisive and the actors not experienced enough to deliver the performances she wanted. The film fell behind in its schedule, and by the time of its release, the end product had not lived up to Swanson's expectations.[40] While it did not lose money, it was a financial wash, breaking even on the production costs.[41]

Portrait of Gloria Swanson by Milena Pavlović-Barili

Gloria Swanson Productions[edit]

She engaged the services of director Raoul Walsh in 1927 and together they conceived of making a film based on W. Somerset Maugham's short story "Miss Thompson".[42] Gloria Swanson Productions proposed to film the controversial Sadie Thompson about the travails of a prostitute living in American Samoa, a project that initially pleased United Artists president Joseph Schenck.[43] As she moved forward with the project, association members urged Schenck to halt the production due to its subject matter. The members took further steps by registering their discontent with Will H. Hays, Chairman of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America.[44] Walsh previously had his own battles with the Hays office, having managed to skirt around censorship issues with What Price Glory? [45] By bringing him to the table, literally over breakfast in her home, Hays and Swanson developed a working relationship for the film.[46] Hays was enthusiastic about the basic story, but did have specific issues that were dealt with before the film's release.[46] The project was filmed on Santa Catalina Island, just off the coast of Long Beach, California.[47] Gross receipts slightly exceeded $850,000 (equivalent to $14,900,000 in 2023).[10][41] At the first annual Academy Awards, Swanson received a nomination for Best Actress for her performance, and the film's cinematographer George Barnes was also nominated.[48]

Gloria Productions[edit]

Swanson (left) in Indiscreet

By the end of 1927, Swanson was in dire financial straits, with only $65 in the bank.[49] Her two productions had generated income, but too slowly to offset her production loan debts to Art Cinema Corporation.[41][50] Swanson had also not made good on her $100,000 subscription for preferred United Artists shared stock.[41] She had received financial proposals from United Artists studio head Joseph Schenck, as well as from Bank of America, prior to engaging the services of Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. as her financial advisor.[51] He proposed to personally bankroll her next picture and conducted a thorough examination of her financial records.[52] Kennedy advised her to shut down Swanson Producing Corporation. She agreed to his plan for a fresh start under the dummy corporate name of Gloria Productions, headquartered in Delaware.[52] Upon his advice, she fired most of her staff and sold her rights for The Love of Sunya and Sadie Thompson to Art Cinema Corporation.[53] Kennedy then created the position of "European director of Pathé" to put her third husband Henry de La Falaise on the payroll.[54]

Sound films were already becoming popular with audiences, most notably the films of singer Al Jolson, who had success with The Jazz Singer released in 1927 and The Singing Fool in 1928.[55] Kennedy, however, advised her to hire Erich von Stroheim to direct another silent film, The Swamp, subsequently retitled Queen Kelly. She was hesitant to hire Stroheim, who was known for being difficult to deal with and who was unwilling to work within any budget. Kennedy, nevertheless, was insistent and was able to get Stroheim released from contractual obligations to producer Pat Powers.[56] Stroheim worked for several months on writing the basic script.[55] Filming of Queen Kelly began in November.[57] His filming was slow, albeit meticulous, and the cast and crew suffered from long hours. Shooting was shut down in January, and Stroheim fired, after complaints by Swanson about him and about the general direction the film was taking.[58] Swanson and Kennedy tried to salvage it with an alternative ending shot on November 24, 1931, directed by Swanson and photographed by Gregg Toland.[59][60]

Only two other films were made under Gloria Productions.[25] The Trespasser in 1929 was a sound production, and garnered Swanson her second Oscar nomination.[61] Written by Edmund Goulding, with Laura Hope Crews fine-tuning the dialogue, Kennedy approved funding for the go-ahead on the production.[62] The film was a melodrama, complete with musical numbers sung by Swanson and completed in 21 days.[63] The world premiere was held in London, the first American sound production to do so. Swanson was mobbed by adoring fans. Before leaving London, she sang at a concert carried over the BBC.[64] What a Widow! in 1930 was the final film for Gloria Productions.[65][66]

United Artists stars on the radio[edit]

Mary Pickford and her husband Douglas Fairbanks hosted the March 29, 1928, episode of the Dodge Hour radio program, originating from Pickford's private bungalow at United Artists, and broadcast to audiences in American movie theaters. The brainchild of Joseph Schenck, it was a promotional come-on to attract audiences into movie theaters to hear the voices of their favorite actors, as sound productions became the future of commercial films.[67] On hand were Swanson, Charlie Chaplin, Norma Talmadge, John Barrymore, Dolores del Río and D. W. Griffith.[68]

Gloria Swanson British Productions Ltd.[edit]

Swanson and John Boles in Music in the Air (1934)
Swanson and Laurence Olivier in Perfect Understanding (1933)

Before she began filming Perfect Understanding as Gloria Swanson British Productions Ltd., she finished a two-film package production for Art Cinema, which included Indiscreet and Tonight or Never (1931).[69] Perfect Understanding, a 1933 sound production comedy, was the only film produced by this company.[70] Made entirely at Ealing Studios, it co-starred Laurence Olivier as Swanson's on-screen husband.[71] United Artists bought back all of her stock with them, in order to provide her financing to make this film, and thereby ending her relationship with the partnership.[69] The film was panned by the critics upon its release and failed at the box office.[72]

1938–1950: Creating new paths[edit]

When she made the transition to sound films as her career simultaneously began to decline, Swanson moved permanently to New York City in 1938.[73] Swanson starred in Father Takes a Wife for RKO in 1941.[74] She began appearing in stage productions and starred in The Gloria Swanson Hour on WPIX-TV in 1948.[75] Swanson threw herself into painting and sculpting and, in 1954, published Gloria Swanson's Diary, a general newsletter.[76] She toured in summer stock, engaged in political activism, designed and marketed clothing and accessories, and made personal appearances on radio and in movie theaters.[74][77]

1950 – 1977: Later career[edit]

Sunset Boulevard[edit]

Swanson and William Holden in Sunset Boulevard (1950)

“It should be pointed out that Gloria Swanson was not Norma Desmond. Unlike her delusional screen counterpart, Swanson was fiercely realistic. She lived in the present –not in the past– and pursued many interests with passionate zeal. She was also a good actress. Judging by the number of people who think she was Norma Desmond, maybe a little too good.” – Biographer Lon Davis in Silent Lives: 100 Biographies of the Silent Film Era. (2008).[78]

The film Sunset Boulevard was conceived by director Billy Wilder and screenwriter Charles Brackett, and came to include writer D. M. Marshman Jr.[79] They bandied about the name of Mae West, whose public persona even in her senior years was as a sex symbol, but she objected to playing a has-been.[80] Mary Pickford was also considered for the lead role of Norma Desmond.[81] It was director George Cukor who suggested Swanson, noting that she was once such a valuable asset to her studio that she was, "...carried in a sedan chair from her dressing room to the set".[80]

The storyline of the film follows a faded silent movie actress Norma Desmond (Swanson), in love with a failed screenwriter Joe Gillis (William Holden).[82] She lives at the mansion with her former-husband-director-turned-butler Max von Mayerling (Erich von Stroheim), who personally disliked the role and only agreed to it out of financial need.[83] A clip from Queen Kelly was used for the scene where Joe and Norma are watching one of her silent films, and she declares, "... we didn't need dialogue, we had faces".[84] Norma plays a card game of bridge with a group of actors also known as "the Waxworks". They included Buster Keaton, H.B. Warner and Anna Q. Nilsson.[85] During the scene leading up to Cecil B. DeMille's cameo, where Max chauffeurs Joe and Norma to the studio, her Isotta Fraschini luxury automobile was towed from behind the camera, because Stroheim had never learned how to drive.[86] Norma's dreams of a comeback are subverted, and when Gillis tries to break up with her, she threatens to kill herself, but instead kills him. She becomes delusional by the time the police and news media arrive. Max sets up the studio lighting towards her on the staircase and directs her down towards the waiting police and news cameras,[87] where she says, "All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up."[88]

Although Swanson had objected to enduring a screen test for the film, she had been glad to be making much more money than she had been in television and on stage.[80] She found the overall experience of making the movie a pleasure, and later stated, "I hated to have the picture end ... When Mr. Wilder called ‘Print it!’ I burst into tears...”[89] She was nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award, but lost to Judy Holliday.[90]

Final films[edit]

Swanson received several acting offers following the release of Sunset Boulevard, but turned most of them down, saying they tended to be pale imitations of Norma Desmond.[91] Her last major Hollywood motion picture role was also her first color film, the poorly received 3 for Bedroom C in 1952.[92] Nationally syndicated columnist Suzy called it "one of the worst movies ever made."[93] In 1956, Swanson made Nero's Mistress, an Italian film shot in Rome, which starred Alberto Sordi, Vittorio de Sica and Brigitte Bardot.[94] Her final screen appearance, in 1974, was as herself in Airport 1975.[95]

Television and theatre[edit]

Black and white photo of a man and woman looking at each other
Swanson with Fred MacMurray in the promo of My Three Sons (1965)

Swanson hosted The Gloria Swanson Hour, one of the first live television series in 1948 in which she invited friends and others to be guests.[75] Swanson later hosted Crown Theatre with Gloria Swanson, a television anthology series in which she occasionally acted.[96]

Through the 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s, Swanson appeared on many different talk and variety shows such as The Carol Burnett Show and The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson to recollect her movies and to lampoon them as well.[97][98] On The Carol Burnett Show in 1973, Swanson reprised her impersonation of Charlie Chaplin from both Sunset Boulevard and Manhandled.[99][100] She was the "mystery guest" on What's My Line.[101] She acted in "Behind the Locked Door" on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour in 1964 and, in the same year, she was nominated for a Golden Globe award for her performance in Burke's Law.[102][103] She made a guest appearance on The Dick Cavett Show in the summer of 1970; a guest on the same show as Janis Joplin.[104] She made a notable appearance in a 1966 episode of The Beverly Hillbillies, in which she plays herself.[102] In the episode, the Clampetts mistakenly believe Swanson is destitute and decide to finance a comeback movie for her – in a silent film.[105]

After near-retirement from movies, Swanson appeared in many plays throughout her later life, beginning in the 1940s.[106] Actor and playwright Harold J. Kennedy, who had learned the ropes at Yale and with Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre, suggested Swanson do a road tour of "Reflected Glory", a comedy that had run on the Broadway stage with Tallulah Bankhead as its star.[107] Kennedy wrote the script for the play A Goose for the Gander, which began its road tour in Chicago in August 1944.[108][109][110]

Swanson also toured with Let Us Be Gay.[111] After her success with Sunset Boulevard, she starred on Broadway in a revival of Twentieth Century with José Ferrer, and in Nina with David Niven.[112] Her last major stage role was in the 1971 Broadway production of Butterflies Are Free at the Booth Theatre.[113] Kevin Brownlow and David Gill interviewed her for Hollywood, a television history of the silent era.[114]

Personal life[edit]

Gloria Swanson in her home
Swanson in her New York City apartment (1972)

Swanson was a vegetarian and an early health food advocate[115] who was known for bringing her own meals to public functions in a tin box.[101] In 1975, Swanson traveled the United States and helped to promote the book Sugar Blues written by her husband, William Dufty.[116] He also ghostwrote Swanson's 1981 autobiography Swanson on Swanson, which became a commercial success.[117][118] The same year, she designed a stamp cachet for the United Nations Decade for Women, which was her last creative project.[119]

She was a pupil of the yoga guru Indra Devi and was photographed performing a series of yoga poses, reportedly looking much younger than her age, for Devi to use in her book Forever Young, Forever Healthy; but the publisher Prentice-Hall decided to use the photographs for Swanson's book, not Devi's. In return, Swanson, who normally never did publicity events, helped to launch Devi's book at the Waldorf-Astoria in 1953.[120]

As a Republican she supported the 1940 and 1944 campaigns for president of Wendell Willkie and the 1964 presidential campaign of Barry Goldwater.[103] In 1980, she chaired the New York chapter of Seniors for Reagan-Bush.[121]

In 1964, Swanson spoke at a "Project Prayer" rally attended by 2,500 at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles.[122] The gathering, which was hosted by Anthony Eisley, a star of ABC's Hawaiian Eye series, sought to flood the United States Congress with letters in support of mandatory school prayer, following two decisions in 1962 and 1963 of the United States Supreme Court, which struck down mandatory prayer as conflicting with the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.[123][124] Joining Swanson and Eisley at the Project Prayer rally were Walter Brennan, Lloyd Nolan, Rhonda Fleming, Pat Boone, and Dale Evans. Swanson declared "Under God we became the freest, strongest, wealthiest nation on earth. Should we change that?"[125]

Marriages and relationships[edit]

Wallace Beery[edit]

Wallace Beery and Swanson married on her 17th birthday on March 27, 1916, but by her wedding night she felt she had made a mistake and saw no way out of it.[126][127] She did not like his home or his family and was repulsed by him as a lover. After becoming pregnant, she saw her husband with other women and learned he had been fired from Keystone.[128] Taking medication given to her by Beery, purported to be for morning sickness, she miscarried the fetus and was taken unconscious to the hospital.[129] Soon afterwards, she filed for divorce, which was finalized on December 12, 1918.[130] Under California law in that era, after a divorce was granted, there was a one-year waiting period before it became finalized so that either of the parties could remarry.[131]

Herbert K. Somborn[edit]

She married Herbert K. Somborn on December 20, 1919.[132] He was at that time president of Equity Pictures Corporation and later the owner of the Brown Derby restaurant.[133] Their daughter, Gloria Swanson Somborn, was born on October 7, 1920.[134][135] In 1923, she adopted one-year-old Sonny Smith, whom she renamed Joseph Patrick Swanson after her father.[136] During their divorce proceedings, Somborn accused her of adultery with 13 men, including Cecil B. DeMille and Marshall Neilan.[137] The public sensationalism led to Swanson having a "morals clause" added to her studio contract.[138] Somborn was granted a divorce in Los Angeles, on September 19, 1923.[139]

Henri de la Falaise[edit]

Swanson and Henri de la Falaise leaving Los Angeles for New York, July 1925

My marriage to Henri gave me the only real peace and happiness I had ever known—or have ever known since. Of my five marriages this one came the nearest to being what I, in my haus-frau heart, have always wanted a marriage to be. He was then and he remains in memory a more delightful companion than any I have known.[140]

Gloria Swanson, 1950

During the production of Madame Sans-Gêne, Swanson met her third husband, Henri, Marquis de la Falaise (commonly known as Henri de la Falaise),[141] who had been hired to be her translator during the film's production.[142] Though Henri was a Marquis and related to the famous Hennessy cognac family, he had no personal wealth.[143] She had conceived a child with him before her divorce from Somborn was final, a situation that would have led to a public scandal and possible end of her film career. She had an abortion, which she later regretted.[144] They married on January 28, 1925, after the Somborn divorce was finalized.[141] Following a four-month recuperation from her abortion, they returned to the United States as European nobility. Swanson now held the title of Marquise.[145] She received a huge welcome home with parades in both New York and Los Angeles. He became a film executive representing Pathé (USA) in France.[146] This marriage ended in divorce in 1930.[147]

In spite of the divorce they remained close, and Falaise became a partner in her World War II efforts to aid potential scientist refugees fleeing from behind Nazi lines.[148] Swanson described herself as a "mental vampire", someone with a searching curiosity about how things worked, and who pursued the possibilities of turning those ideas into reality.[73] In 1939, she created Multiprises, an inventions and patents company; Henri de la Falaise provided a transitional Paris office for the scientists and gave written documentation to authorities guaranteeing jobs for them.[149] Viennese electronics engineer Richard Kobler, chemist Leopold Karniol, metallurgist Anton Kratky, and acoustical engineer Leopold Neumann, were brought to New York and headquartered in Rockefeller Center.[150] The group nicknamed her "Big Chief".[151]

Joseph P. Kennedy Sr.[edit]

While still married to Henri, Swanson had a lengthy affair with the married Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., father of future President John F. Kennedy.[152] He became her business partner, and their relationship was an open secret in Hollywood. He took over all of her personal and business affairs and was supposed to make her millions.[52] Kennedy left her after the disastrous Queen Kelly.[153]

Michael Farmer[edit]

After the marriage to Henri and her affair with Kennedy was over, Swanson became acquainted with Michael Farmer, the man who would become her fourth husband. They met by chance in Paris when Swanson was being fitted by Coco Chanel for her 1931 film Tonight or Never. Farmer was a man of independent financial means who seemed not to have been employed. Rumors were that he was a gigolo. Swanson began spending time with him,[154] during which she discovered a breast lump and also became pregnant, but was not yet divorced from Henri.[155] She was not interested in marrying Farmer, but he did not want to break off the relationship. When Farmer found out she was pregnant, he threatened to go public with the news unless she agreed to marry him, something she did not want to do. Her friends, some of whom openly disliked him, thought she was making a mistake.[156] They married on August 16, 1931, and separated 2 years later.[157][158]

Because of the possibility that Swanson's divorce from La Falaise had not been finalized at the time of the wedding, she was forced to remarry Farmer the following November, by which time she was four months pregnant with Michelle Bridget Farmer, who was born on April 5, 1932.[159]

Herbert Marshall[edit]

Swanson and Farmer divorced in 1934 after she became involved with married British actor Herbert Marshall. The media reported widely on her affair with Marshall.[160][161][162] After almost three years with the actor, Swanson left him once she became convinced he would never divorce his wife Edna Best, for her. In an early manuscript of her autobiography written in her own hand decades later, Swanson recalled "I was never so convincingly and thoroughly loved as I was by Herbert Marshall."[163]

William M. Davey[edit]

Davey was a wealthy investment broker whom Swanson met in October 1944 while she was appearing in A Goose for the Gander. They married January 29, 1945.[164] Swanson had initially thought she was going to be able to retire from acting, but the marriage was troubled by Davey's alcoholism from the start. Erratic behavior and acrimonious recriminations followed. Swanson and her daughter Michelle Farmer visited an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and gathered AA pamphlets, which they placed around the apartment.[165][166] Davey moved out.[165] In the subsequent legal separation proceedings, the judge ordered him to pay Swanson alimony. In an effort to avoid the payments, Davey unsuccessfully filed for divorce on the grounds of mental cruelty. He died within a year, not having paid anything to Swanson, and left the bulk of his estate to the Damon Runyon Cancer Memorial Fund.[167][168]

William Dufty[edit]

Swanson's final marriage occurred in 1976 and lasted until her death. Her sixth husband William Dufty was a writer who worked for many years at the New York Post, where he was assistant to the editor from 1951 to 1960. He was the co-author (ghostwriter) of Billie Holiday's autobiography Lady Sings the Blues, the author of Sugar Blues, a 1975 best-selling health book still in print, and the author of the English version of Georges Ohsawa's You Are All Sanpaku.[169] They met in the mid-1960s and moved in together.[170][171] Swanson shared her husband's enthusiasm for macrobiotic diets, and they traveled widely together to speak about nutrition.[116] Swanson and her husband first got to know John Lennon and Yoko Ono because they were fans of Dufty's work.[172] Swanson testified on Lennon's behalf at his immigration hearing in New York City, which led to his becoming a permanent resident.[173] Besides her Fifth Avenue apartment, she and Dufty spent time at their homes in Beverly Hills, California; Colares, Portugal; Croton-on-Hudson, New York; and Palm Springs, California.[174] After Swanson's death, Dufty returned to his former home in Birmingham, Michigan. He died of cancer in 2002.[169]


Swanson died of a heart ailment at the New York Hospital on April 4, 1983, having recently returned from her home on the Portuguese Riviera.[175][176] Her body was cremated and her ashes interred at the Church of the Heavenly Rest on Fifth Avenue in New York City, attended by a small number of family members.[177]

After Swanson's death, there was a series of auctions from August to September 1983 at William Doyle Galleries in New York. Collectors bought her furniture and decorations, jewelry, clothing, and memorabilia from her personal life and career.[178]

Honors and legacy[edit]

In 1960, Gloria Swanson was honored with two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: one for motion pictures at 6750 Hollywood Boulevard, and another for television at 6301 Hollywood Boulevard.[179] In 1955 and 1957, Swanson was awarded The George Eastman Award, given by George Eastman House for distinguished contribution to the art of film,[180][181] and in 1966, the museum honored her with a career film retrospective, titled A Tribute to Gloria Swanson, which screened several of her movies.[182] In 1974, Swanson was one of the honorees of the first Telluride Film Festival.[183] A parking lot by Sims Park in downtown New Port Richey, Florida, is named after the star, who is said to have owned property along the Cotee River.[184]

In 1982, a year before her death, Swanson sold her archives of over 600 boxes for an undisclosed sum, including photographs, artwork, copies of films and private papers, including correspondence, contracts, and financial dealings, to the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. Upon her death in 1983, much of the remainder of her holdings was purchased by UT-Austin at an auction held at the Doyle New York gallery. An undisclosed amount of memorabilia was also gifted to the HRC Center between 1983 and 1988.[174]

In 1989, the Library of Congress chose Sunset Boulevard, along with 24 other films, "to be preserved in the permanent collection of the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress as culturally, historically, and aesthetically important".[185]


Swanson has been played both on television and in film by the following actresses:


Note: The list below is limited to New York Broadway theatrical productions.

Broadway credits of Gloria Swanson
Title Date Role Ref(s)
A Goose for the Gander January 23, 1945 – February 3, 1945 Katherine [192]
Bathsheba March 26, 1947 – April 19, 1947 [193]
Twentieth Century December 24, 1950 – June 2, 1951 Lily Garland [194]
Nina December 5, 1951 – January 12, 1952 Nina [195]
Butterflies Are Free September 7, 1971 – July 2, 1972 Mrs. Baker [196]


Denotes a lost or presumed lost film.


Short subject
Title Year Role Notes
The Song of the Soul 1914 Unconfirmed [197]
The Misjudged Mr. Hartley 1915 Maid [198]
At the End of a Perfect Day 1915 Hands Bouquet to Holmes Uncredited, actual release date of January 26, 2015 [197]
The Ambition of the Baron 1915 Bit part Essanay Film
starring Francis X. Bushman
His New Job 1915 Stenographer Essanay Film
Written and directed by Charlie Chaplin
The Fable of Elvira and Farina and the Meal Ticket 1915 Farina, Elvira's Daughter Credited as Gloria Mae
Essanay Film
Sweedie Goes to College 1915 College Girl Wallace Beery played Sweedie in a series of shorts
Essanay Film
The Romance of an American Duchess 1915 Minor Role Uncredited
Essanay Film
The Broken Pledge 1915 Gloria Essanay Film [202]
A Dash of Courage 1916 Keystone/Triangle
with Bobby Vernon
directed by Clarence G. Badger
Hearts and Sparks 1916 Keystone/Triangle
with Bobby Vernon
directed by Clarence G. Badger
A Social Cub 1916 Keystone/Triangle
with Bobby Vernon
directed by Clarence G. Badger
The Danger Girl 1916 Reggie's madcap sister Keystone/Triangle
with Bobby Vernon
directed by Clarence G. Badger
Haystacks and Steeples 1916 Keystone/Triangle
with Bobby Vernon
directed by Clarence G. Badger
The Nick of Time Baby 1916 Keystone/Triangle
with Bobby Vernon
directed by Clarence G. Badger
Teddy at the Throttle 1917 Gloria Dawn, His Sweetheart Uncredited
with Bobby Vernon
directed by Clarence G. Badger
Baseball Madness 1917 Victor Film/Universal [210]
Dangers of a Bride 1917 Keystone/Triangle
directed by Clarence G. Badger
Whose Baby? 1917 Keystone/Triangle
with Bobby Vernon
directed by Clarence G. Badger
The Sultan's Wife 1917 Gloria Keystone/Triangle
with Bobby Vernon
directed by Clarence G. Badger
The Pullman Bride 1917 The Girl Paramount-Mack Sennett
directed by Clarence G. Badger
A Trip to Paramountown 1922 Herself Paramount [212]


Feature film credits of Gloria Swanson
Title Year Role Notes
Society for Sale 1918 Phylis Clyne Triangle Film Corporation [213]
Her Decision 1918 Phyllis Dunbar Triangle Film Corporation
directed by Jack Conway
You Can't Believe Everything 1918 Patricia Reynolds Triangle Film Corporation
directed by Jack Conway
Station Content 1918 Kitty Manning Triangle Film Corporation
directed by Arthur Hoyt
One reel survives
Everywoman's Husband 1918 Edith Emerson Triangle Film Corporation
directed by Gilbert P. Hamilton
Shifting Sands 1918 Marcia Grey Triangle Film Corporation
directed by Albert Parker
The Secret Code 1918 Sally Carter Rand Triangle Film Corporation
directed by Albert Parker
Wife or Country 1918 Sylvia Hamilton Triangle Film Corporation
directed by E. Mason Hopper
Don't Change Your Husband 1919 Leila Porter Famous Players–Lasky/Paramount
directed by Cecil B. DeMille
For Better, for Worse 1919 Sylvia Norcross Famous Players–Lasky/Paramount
directed by Cecil B. DeMille
Male and Female 1919 Lady Mary Lasenby Famous Players–Lasky/Paramount
directed by Cecil B. DeMille
Why Change Your Wife? 1920 Beth Gordon Famous Players–Lasky/Paramount
directed by Cecil B. DeMille
Something to Think About 1920 Ruth Anderson Famous Players–Lasky/Paramount
directed by Cecil B. DeMille
The Affairs of Anatol 1921 Vivian Spencer – Anatol's Wife Famous Players–Lasky/Paramount
directed by Cecil B. DeMille
The Great Moment 1921 Nada Pelham/Nadine Pelham Famous Players–Lasky/Paramount
directed by Sam Wood
Under the Lash 1921 Deborah Krillet Famous Players–Lasky/Paramount
directed by Sam Wood
Don't Tell Everything 1921 Marian Westover Famous Players–Lasky/Paramount
directed by Sam Wood
Her Husband's Trademark 1922 Lois Miller Famous Players–Lasky/Paramount
directed by Sam Wood
Her Gilded Cage 1922 Suzanne Ornoff Famous Players–Lasky/Paramount
directed by Sam Wood
Beyond the Rocks 1922 Theodora Fitzgerald Famous Players–Lasky/Paramount
directed by Sam Wood
The Impossible Mrs. Bellew 1922 Betty Bellew Famous Players–Lasky/Paramount
directed by Sam Wood
My American Wife 1922 Natalie Chester Famous Players–Lasky/Paramount
directed by Sam Wood
Prodigal Daughters 1923 Swifty Forbes Famous Players–Lasky/Paramount
directed by Sam Wood
Bluebeard's 8th Wife 1923 Mona deBriac Famous Players–Lasky/Paramount
directed by Sam Wood
Hollywood 1923 Cameo role Famous Players–Lasky/Paramount [223]
Zaza 1923 Zaza Famous Players–Lasky/Paramount
directed by Allan Dwan
The Humming Bird 1924 Toinette Famous Players–Lasky/Paramount
directed by Sidney Olcott
A Society Scandal 1924 Marjorie Colbert Famous Players–Lasky/Paramount
directed by Allan Dwan
Manhandled 1924 Tessie McGuire Famous Players–Lasky/Paramount
directed by Allan Dwan
Her Love Story 1924 Princess Marie Famous Players–Lasky/Paramount
directed by Allan Dwan
Wages of Virtue 1924 Carmelita Famous Players–Lasky/Paramount
directed by Allan Dwan
Madame Sans-Gêne 1925 Madame Sans-Gêne Famous Players–Lasky/Paramount
directed by Léonce Perret
The Coast of Folly 1925 Joyce Gathway/Nadine Gathway Famous Players–Lasky/Paramount
directed by Allan Dwan
Stage Struck 1925 Jennie Hagen Famous Players–Lasky/Paramount
directed by Allan Dwan
The Untamed Lady 1926 St. Clair Van Tassel Famous Players–Lasky/Paramount
directed by Frank Tuttle
Fine Manners 1926 Orchid Murphy Famous Players–Lasky/Paramount
directed by Richard Rosson
The Love of Sunya 1927 Sunya Ashling Swanson Producing Corporation/United Artists
directed by Albert Parker
Sadie Thompson 1928 Sadie Thompson Gloria Swanson Productions/United Artists
directed by Raoul Walsh
Queen Kelly 1928 Kitty Kelly/Queen Kelly Joseph P. Kennedy/United Artists
directed by Erich von Stroheim
The Trespasser 1929 Marion Donnell Gloria Productions/United Artists
directed by Edmund Goulding
Released in two versions, one silent, and the other with sound
What a Widow! 1930 Tamarind Brook Gloria Productions/United Artists
directed by Allan Dwan
Indiscreet 1931 Geraldine "Gerry" Trent Feature Productions, Inc.
A DeSylva, Brown & Henderson Production
directed by Leo McCarey
Tonight or Never 1931 Nella Vago Feature Productions, Inc./United Artists
directed by Mervyn LeRoy
Perfect Understanding 1933 Judy Rogers Gloria Swanson British Productions, Ltd./United Artists
directed by Cyril Gardner
Music in the Air 1934 Frieda Hotzfelt Erich Pommer Productions/Fox Film
directed by Joe May
Father Takes a Wife 1941 Leslie Collier Osborne Marcus Lee/RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
directed by William Dorfman
Sunset Boulevard 1950 Norma Desmond Charles Brackett/Paramount
directed by Billy Wilder
3 for Bedroom "C" 1952 Ann Haven/costume designer Brenco Pictures Corporation/Warner Bros.
directed by Milton H. Bren
Nero's Weekend (aka Nero's Mistress) 1956 Agrippina Les Films Marceau and Titanus/Manhattan Films International
directed by Steno
Airport 1975 1974 Herself Universal Pictures
directed by Jack Smight


Title Year Role Notes Ref(s)
The Gloria Swanson Hour 1948 Hostess Variety show [230]
The Peter Lind Hayes Show 1950 Herself Episode #1.1
sitcom show
Hollywood Opening Night 1953 Episode: "The Pattern" [232]
Crown Theatre with Gloria Swanson 1954–1955 Hostess 25 episodes [96]
The Steve Allen Show 1957 Norma Desmond Episode #3.8 [233]
Straightaway 1961 Lorraine Carrington Episode: "A Toast to Yesterday" [234]
Dr. Kildare 1963 Julia Colton Episode: "The Good Luck Charm" [102]
Burke's Law 1963–1964 Various roles 2 episodes [102]
Kraft Suspense Theatre 1964 Mrs. Charlotte Heaton Segment: "Who Is Jennifer?" [102]
The Alfred Hitchcock Hour 1964 Mrs. Daniels Episode: "Behind the Locked Door" [102]
My Three Sons 1965 Margaret McSterling Episode: "The Fountain of Youth" [102]
Ben Casey 1965 Victoria Hoffman Episode: "Minus That Rusty Old Hacksaw" [102]
The Beverly Hillbillies 1966 Herself Episode: "The Gloria Swanson Story" [102]
The Eternal Tramp Special 1972 Narrator aka Chaplinesque, My Life and Hard Times [235]
The Carol Burnett Show 1973 Herself Episode #7.3 [99]
Killer Bees 1974 Madame Maria von Bohlen Television movie [236]
The Great Debate 1974 Herself Canadian interview show with James Bawden [237]
Hollywood 1980 Herself Television documentary [238]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Awards and nominations of Gloria Swanson
Year Award Result Category Film or series Ref(s)
1929 Academy Award Nominated Best Actress Sadie Thompson [48]
1931 The Trespasser [61]
1951 Sunset Boulevard [239]
1951 Golden Globe Award Won Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama [240]
1964 Nominated Best TV Star – Female Burke's Law [102]
1951 Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists Won Best Actress – Foreign Film (Migliore Attrice Straniera) Sunset Boulevard [241]
1951 Jussi Award Won Best Foreign Actress [242]
1950 National Board of Review of Motion Pictures Won Best Actress [243]
1980 Career Achievement Award
1975 Saturn Award Won Special Award

See also[edit]


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  8. ^ Welsch 2013, p. 12.
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  17. ^ Birchard 2009, pp. 135–136.
  18. ^ Birchard 2009, p. 138.
  19. ^ Birchard 2009, p. 139.
  20. ^ Beauchamp 2009, p. 109.
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  161. ^ Peak, Mayme Ober (January 13, 1935). "To Be Called Sauve Gets on My Nerves". Daily Boston Globe. p. B5. Now the Marshalls are separated by more than an ocean and continent. Since their separation, gossip has romantically linked the names of Gloria Swanson and Herbert Marshall. They are constantly seen together.
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  234. ^ "Straightaway – Gloria Swanson portrays an aging movie queen". The Philadelphia Inquirer. December 15, 1961.
  235. ^ "The Eternal Tramp Special". The Morning Call. September 24, 1972.
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  237. ^ Bawden & Miller 2016, pp. 14–25.
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